SPRINGFIELD, MO. —
Indiana State earned the pole position in the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball standings last Saturday and had its first chance to lead a MVC lap.
But at JQH Arena on Tuesday, the Sycamores crashed in the first turn.
Missouri State afforded ISU the respect it earned as conference leaders with an inspired effort. The Bears’ defense had ISU on its heels for the majority of the contest, and a late comeback effort by the Sycamores fell short in a 67-65 loss.
ISU fell a half-game behind Creighton and Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference. The loss likely dealt a mortal blow to the Sycamores’ NCAA Tournament at-large hopes. ISU was on the bubble entering the contest.
"We're a good team, we're not a bunch of good individuals. Maybe they've done their own thing a little bit too much in the last couple of games. Maybe we're not ready to compete for a regular season championship, we're probably not," ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Jake Odum led ISU (16-9, 9-5) with 21 points. Manny Arop added 15, but ISU struggled from the field for most of the game against a stout Missouri State defense.
Marcus Marshall led Missouri State (8-18, 6-8) with 19 points. Christian Kirk added 14, 10 scored in the first half.
"They came out ready to play and we didn't. I don't know why. When you're a first-place team, you have to be ready for every team's best shot. And we weren't ready for it tonight," Odum said.
The Bears committed their defense to stop ISU in the paint by fronting the Sycamores’ big men and by cutting off driving lanes. ISU was not able to score consistently inside until its late-game comeback.
Early in the half, ISU made Missouri State pay for its defensive scheme as it converted four of its first six 3-pointers.
ISU led by eight six minutes into the contest and had a somewhat comfortable 26-20 advantage with 4:54 left in the half.
The Bears stuck with their defensive plan and when the three’s stopped falling for the Sycamores, the production tailed off.
"After Manny made those two threes right away ... we shot too many threes. We didn't get the ball in the paint and we didn't finish at all," Lansing said.
Worse, ISU got turnover happy and the giveaways hurt more than the Sycamores’ 34.5 percent first-half shooting. ISU had a stretch of five turnovers in six possessions. Missouri State closed the gap and an Anthony Downing runner with 27 seconds left in the half staked the Bears to a 29-28 halftime advantage.
The Bears kept the good vibes going to start the second half. Odum picked up three fouls in the first two minutes of the half and ISU’s offense struggled with or without him on the floor. Odum also injured his hip, but not to the point where it kept him out of the game. Odum later said his hip was fine.
Missouri State’s lead increased to 41-32 by the 14:07 mark. It would get worse for the Sycamores.
ISU failed to unlock the Bears’ aggressive defense, which kept the Sycamores from getting anything easy in the paint. ISU missed 11 of its first 16 shots and a 6-0 Missouri State at the midway point of the half gave the Bears a 53-39 lead.
Missouri State seemed least comfortable with matters seemingly in their hands and the nervous Bears allowed ISU back into the game. An Odum layup, an Arop 3-pointer and an Odum runner fueled a 7-0 ISU run that cut the Bears’ lead to 55-50 with 4:27 left.
That period of play seemed to awaken ISU from its slumber. The deficit dropped to three on a pair of Odum free throws. Then the ISU deficit was one after a Lucas Eitel 3-pointer at 2:42.
That’s as close as the Sycamores would get, but they had chances.
After Scheer missed a pair of free throws at 1:29 to give ISU a chance to take the lead down one, the Bears summoned their defensive swagger. Missouri State was determined not to let Odum take a shot and ISU had to settle for a forced Mahurin leaner near the end of the shot clock. It missed and Downing was fouled on the rebound. He made both free throws to put the Bears up 62-59.
After Odum missed at 47 seconds, Scheer made a pair of free throws to put the Bears up 64-59 with 43.1 seconds left. ISU would not get its deficit below two for the remainder of the game.
The loss to the Bears will be filed under a "bad loss" as far as ISU's at-large NCAA Tournament hopes are concerned. Bad loss and NCAA bubble burst or not, ISU is still in contention for the MVC championship. ISU has already clinched the tiebreaker edge -- determined by nonconference strength of schedule -- over Wichita State or Creighton is there's a two-way tie for the championship.
"This isn't a bad loss. [Missouri State] is a good basketball team and a very well-coached basketball team," Lansing said. "We lost at Southern Illinois, we lost at Drake, we lost at Illinois State. Those are all good teams and they've shown it by beating other good teams.
"We've got nine wins in the league, we're doing OK. But to contend for a championship, you have to be better night in and night out. I have to do a better job of getting these guys a little bit more locked in. We've had good practices, we just haven't taken it to the floor the last couple of games," Lansing added.
ISU next plays at Bradley on Saturday.
INDIANA STATE (65) – Arop 5-7 2-2 15, Mahurin 3-8 3-4 9, Gant 3-6 0-0 7, Brown 1-4 0-0 2, Odum 7-16 6-6 21, Kitchell 0-2 2-2 2, Eitel 2-3 0-0 6, Cummings 1-5 0-0 3, Burnett 0-0 0-0 0, K. Smith 0-6 0-0 0. 22-57 FG, 13-14 FT, 65 TP.
MISSOURI STATE (67) – Pickens 4-11 3-4 11, Thurman 2-8 2-2 6, Downing 2-8 3-4 8, Marshall 5-9 7-7 19, Scheer 2-4 2-5 8, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 0-1 1-2 1, Kirk 6-11 2-4 14. 21-52 FG, 20-28 FT, 67 TP.
Halftime score – MSU 29-28. 3-point goals – ISU 8-20 (Arop 3-4, Eitel 2-3, Odum 1-4, Cummings 1-3, Gant 1-1, Mahurin 0-3, Brown 0-1, K. Smith 0-1), MSU 5-13 (Marshall 2-4, Scheer 2-3, Downing 1-4, Thurman 0-2). Rebounds – ISU 36 (Odum 9, Mahurin 8, K. Smith 4, Team 4, Arop 3, Gant 3, Brown 2, Cummings 2, Kitchell), MSU 32 (Pickens 9, Downing 8, Marshall 4, Scheer 4, Kirk 3, Thurman 2, Williams 2), Assists – ISU 11 (Odum 7, Brown, Kitchell, Cummings, K. Smith), MSU 11 (Downing 4, Marshall 2, Scheer 2, Pickens, Thurman, Williams), Steals – ISU 2 (Mahurin, K. Smith), MSU 5 (Pickens 2, Downing 2, Scheer), Blocks – ISU 7 (Odum 3, Brown 2, K. Smith 2, Kitchell), MSU 2 (Pickens, Marshall), Turnovers – ISU 11 (Odum 3, Brown 2, K. Smith 2, Arop, Kitchell, Eitel, Cummings), MSU 7 (Downing 3, Marshall 2, Scheer, Kirk), Total fouls – ISU 24, MSU 12. Fouled out – Cummings. A – 5255.
Next – ISU (16-9, 9-5) plays at Bradley and Missouri State (8-18, 6-8) plays at Southern Illinois on Saturday.